March 7, 2012

Corn and Egg Flower Soup

My mom used to make this corn and egg flower soup for me when I was growing up. It would show up on the dinner table on hectic evenings and when someone was feeling under the weather. Although I loved it, I never tried making this soup. But then, a chilly day drew out the memory of sweet-savory corn and egg soup from the far reaches of my mind. I had to have it. As a child, I never knew the simplicity of the soup. All I knew was that it was tasty and warm, and made me feel like I was snuggling with my favorite blanket.

I have recollections of my mom over a hot stove, stirring creamed corn into simmering chicken broth. Then, she would add chopped ham and occasionally some peas. Lastly, she would turn off the heat and mix in some lightly beaten eggs. With a few gentle, swift strokes, the eggs would turn into beautiful flower petals. Really, this recipe is Betty-Crocker simple, but it yields very satisfying results. My mom used to garnish the soup with chopped scallions and white pepper, but I leave out the onions because the kids don’t like it. However, those scallions would have brightened up the picture some.

S asked me last night: “How come you’ve never made this before?”

Just to be clear, this beats the socks off the bland egg drop soup you find at virtually every Chinese-American restaurant.

Corn and Egg Flower Soup

Ingredients

6 cups chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium

2 cans cream-style corn

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp sesame oil

2 tsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry (optional)

salt and black or white pepper, to taste

3/4 cup deli-style ham, thinly sliced

3 – 4 TB cornstarch, dissolved in 1/4 cup water (more cornstarch makes for a thicker soup)

3 eggs, lightly beaten (or you could just use the egg whites)

3 green onions, finely chopped for garnish

Method:

1. Bring chicken stock to a boil. Stir in creamed corn and simmer for another 3 minutes.

2. Stir in the ham, sugar, sesame oil, rice wine or sherry and salt and pepper. Return to a simmer for another couple of minutes, bringing it back to a boil.

3. Stir the cornstarch-water mixture until well mixed and then pour into the boiling soup. Stir soup until it thickens. Turn off heat.

4. Pour the lightly beaten eggs into the soup and stir gently but quickly until they form thin shreds.

5. Garnish with scallions.

February 29, 2012

Light, Lazy Lunch

 

This was one of those mornings I would have rather washed dishes and vacuumed the house than pack lunches. When I feel that way, I grab the LunchBots containers and silicon muffin liners. I line each with six red cups and start looking in the fridge and pantry for anything that I can drop into the liners. Today, I found baby carrots, kalamata olives, hardboiled eggs, string cheese, strawberries, sweet potato chips and gluten-free animal cookies. C is a lighter eater than S, so I added some sliced pastrami to S’s container. Lunch was packed in just a few minutes, and in the process I even managed to clean out some bags from the pantry and jars from the refrigerator.

I know this is a lot like the Tapas Lunch I posted a few months back. But this morning I filled it with different food items. That counts as a different lunch, doesn’t it?

 

February 28, 2012

Spaghetti Squash with Goat Cheese and Parsley

I have a confession to make: the spaghetti squash, which came from my CSA, for this recipe must have sat on my countertop for two months. Secretly, I was hoping it would go bad, so I wouldn’t have to figure out what to do with it. But I realized after two months that it was wishful thinking.

I scrounged through a vegetarian cookbook and realized that I could roast the squash without cutting it first. When I cooked spaghetti squash last year, I cut it in half lengthwise and then roasted it in the oven with the fleshy side down. But getting a knife through the uncooked squash was a huge challenge—one I didn’t want to endure again. So, this time, I poked holes throughout the squash with a fork and put it in the oven to roast at 375 degrees for an hour. After that, it was almost effortless to slice the squash in half. After scraping out the seeds, I dragged a fork through the flesh, pulling the strands apart. Then, I simply tossed it with a few tablespoons of butter, 1 cup of goat cheese, a handful of chopped parsley and some salt and pepper. My squash was so big it must have made 12 cups of spaghetti squash.

Surprisingly, the kids more than tolerated it. S said she liked it, but didn’t love it. Meanwhile, C gobbled his up quickly. But the truth is, C saw the squash as a vehicle for goat cheese, one of his favorites. Although I served it for dinner, I had plenty left over the next day. I decided to pack it in S’s lunch with some deli turkey on the side. It tastes fine at room temperature.  As for me, I warmed up the leftovers and ate it with an over-easy egg for a low-carb breakfast. That runny yolk made the squash unbelievably rich and delicious.

February 24, 2012

Chickpea, Spinach and Cauliflower Curry

I was craving a hearty vegetarian meal last night, so I decided to tinker with a few chickpea and spinach curry recipes. Both my kids like Indian food (But I want them to like it more!), so I thought this was a good way to get them used to more spices, without setting their lips and tongue on fire. Some of the recipes called for tomatoes, while others relied on a cucumber yogurt accompaniment for acidity. I decided to go with the tomatoes, since I’m a big fan of one-pot meals.

Somewhat to my surprise, the kids loved it. S had three servings and asked for it for lunch today. Everyone agreed it was a dish I should make again. Yay! Simple pleasures.

Unfortunately, I didn’t measure any of the ingredients or spices last night, so I’m not sure I can replicate the dish. I basically kept adding spices until I felt that it had enough flavor. I started by sautéing one large chopped onion with a tablespoon each of minced garlic and ginger. Then I added roughly 2 to 3 teaspoons of ground cumin and ground coriander, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 2 teaspoons curry powder and a fat pinch of salt. What I wish I had was some garam masala. But last night I had to make do without it. Once the spices became fragrant, I added a can of drained chickpeas, florets from a small head of cauliflower, a 16 oz. bag of thawed frozen spinach and 1 to 1 1/2 cups of diced tomatoes. I let it simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes, until all the flavors blended and there was a nice thick consistency. Serve it over rice with a little chopped cilantro over the top.

This is a great recipe when you’re low on fresh produce. All you need is an onion and cauliflower. You could also make it without the cauliflower.

Note to reader and self:  Indian food really does not photograph well.

February 23, 2012

Quinoa Salad with Grilled Chicken

Leftovers! I love leftovers, because it makes packing lunch a cinch. Last night’s quinoa salad and grilled chicken went straight from my Pyrex dish in the fridge into S’s LunchBots container.

Quinoa is a high-protein, gluten-free grain (actually, a seed) that’s easy to make and very versatile. I had a plethora of cucumbers and grape tomatoes, so I decided to go Greek with the quinoa salad. I like to make quinoa in my rice cooker because it’s perfect every time and I don’t have to think about it once I hit “Cook.” After letting it cool, I tossed it with finely chopped cucumbers, halved cherry tomatoes, minced flat-leaf parsley and red onion, chopped and pitted Kalamata olives, and crumbled feta. Then I made a vinaigrette with olive oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic and dried oregano. I gently mixed it all together and let it chill in the fridge, while I grilled chicken breasts that were marinated in pesto.

Along with the quinoa salad, I packed some carrots, fruit and blue corn chips.  All done and all gluten-free.

February 21, 2012

Zucchini Patties with Feta

I’m always looking for ways to use up zucchinis, especially in the summer when they’re in season, so when I came across this recipe I had to try it. I couldn’t wait for the summer. And I’m glad I did, because C ate three in a sitting. S was lukewarm on them, telling me she prefers spinach patties. Oh, well. You can’t please everyone all of the time.

I bought so many zucchinis that I ended up doubling the Epicurious recipe.  To make it gluten-free, I simply substituted Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Flour for the regular wheat flour. Other than that, it calls for eggs, feta cheese, green onions (which I subbed with sautéed white onions and garlic) and fresh parsley and dill. I left out the dill, because I wasn’t sure the kids would like it. Instead, I minced and stirred it into the Greek yogurt dipping sauce that accompanies the zucchini cakes. As it turns out, the kids loved the dill in the yogurt. Next time, I’ll definitely mix it into the patties. I may also try it with Parmesan Reggiano or Pecorino Romano, instead of the feta.

We had them as side dish with dinner, and the next morning C asked for them for breakfast. Even though S thought they were just meh, I packed them in her lunch. I froze the rest, so I could have an easy, healthy snack on hand.

CLICK HERE for the Zucchini Patties with Feta recipe.

 

February 16, 2012

Five Under 5: Meatball Sliders

Okay, I admit I’m cheating a bit with this post. But you really could make this with less than five ingredients—if you bought pre-made meatballs and sauce. Friends have told me that the turkey meatballs from Trader Joe’s are quite tasty. And there are a number of jarred sauces on supermarket shelves that are winners. I had a few meatballs left over from the batch of 100 I made months ago. I warmed them up in some sauce (confession: I made my own) and put a little slice of fresh mozzarella over the top of the meatball. I lightly toasted some mini hamburger buns and pieced it all together.

1 – Mini hamburger buns

2 – Meatballs

3 – Marinara sauce

4 – Fresh mozzarella

I packed the sliders with some baby carrots, cucumbers and a banana. These sliders would be great for dinner, too.

In doggie news, my sweet German Shepherd is feeling much better after chemotherapy and some prednisone. She’s finally eating and wagging her tail again. Keep your fingers crossed that remission is on its way and that it’ll be a long one.

February 13, 2012

Valentine’s Day Cookies – Just Say No to Red #40

I love Christmas and Valentine’s Day, and I especially love baking for both holidays. But I detest artificial food coloring. I won’t go into the myriad reasons why it’s awful,  unnecessary, and  should be banned. But I do want to make you aware of all the places it shows up. Yes, it’s on virtually every birthday cake your child will eat. Plus, it’s in rainbow-colored goldfish crackers, most candies, maraschino cherries, jello, popsicles, commercial breakfast bars, and those gummy fruit-flavored snacks that are somehow passing for fruit. Food coloring also sneaks its way into children’s Tylenol and Ibuprofen, as well as the majority of toothpastes.

With that said, my kids are no different than anyone else’s. They love colorful icing, sprinkles and candies. And while I appreciate how beautiful desserts can look with artificial food dye, I want nothing to do with eating them. As for S and C, that’s another story. To satisfy the whimsy in my kids and me, I decided to make my own red food coloring—from beets. And you know what? It worked! Plus, it was super easy.

                                      

I always have beets on hand because of my CSA, so I decided to slice one beet into four slices and steam it with a 1/3 cup water. You have to be careful not to let the water burn off, so add more water as you steam, if necessary. After about 15 minutes, I had a beautiful deep red liquid in my pan. I added about a tablespoon of it to my icing and voila it all turned pink. Since beets are naturally sweet, it didn’t impart an unusual taste to the icing. I was happy and the kids were ecstatic, because their mom was going to let them frost the cookies and eat them, too! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Pink Icing (made from beet juice)

1/2 stick butter, at room temperature

1 lb. powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Beet juice

milk

Beat butter with powdered sugar until well blended. Add vanilla and beet juice. When you’ve achieved the desired color, add milk a tablespoon at a time until the desired consistency. Spread over cookies, cake or cupcakes.

February 9, 2012

Five under 5: Pesto Burger

It’s pesto—again! I had no idea how much S and C love it. I knew they liked it in their pasta, but they seem to like it anywhere and everywhere. Today, I packed S a leftover pesto bison burger from last night’s dinner. I had mixed two heaping tablespoons of pesto with one pound of ground bison. I shaped them into five patties and cooked them in a cast iron skillet. I topped each patty with a slice of fresh mozzarella and let the cheese get nice and soft. Then, I toasted a couple of Par-Baked Panini Rustic Rolls (a new Trader Joe’s find!) and spread each side with more pesto. I topped the rolls with some spinach leaves and a few slices of red bell pepper. On the side, I served grape tomatoes, carrots, and sweet-potato chips. S begged to have it again for lunch today. Easy enough—and with just five ingredients.

I may have to take a short hiatus from blogging. My beloved German Shepherd, Zoe, has been diagnosed with lymphoma. She was our first baby (we got her when she was just 8 weeks), and has been a sweet, loyal friend for more than 12 years. While there are still lunches to pack, I’d like to make time in the mornings to take her to Dog Beach and the wilderness preserve, making her last days as happy as possible.

February 7, 2012

Thai Fish Cakes

It’s a feast of leftovers at my house, after hosting a Thai food party on Saturday evening (I’m kicking myself for forgetting to take pictures!). I was so worried there wouldn’t be enough food that I sort of  completely overdid it. I made 100 Thai fish cakes, 100 skewers of chicken satay, a large mound of papaya salad and a vat of vegetarian green curry. And that was for 15 skinny women. On top of that, a friend of mine brought two rice noodle dishes, one cold and the other warm. Plus, another made Thai coconut and mango sticky rice. In my defense, I had a handful of moms who at the last minute couldn’t make it.

My kids love Thai fish cakes, especially after dipping them in a sweet chili sauce. It’s a good thing they dig them, because in addition to having them for dinner and snack time, they’re also showing up in S’s lunch today. Fish cakes are one of the very few foods I deep fry. But they’re so quintessentially Thai and so delicious that I give myself a get-out-of-jail pass for serving them to my kids. And I make them only once or twice a year.

The secret to a good fish cake is using kaffir lime leaves. I like to throw in a few extras for extra flavor, and I use a very generous tablespoon of red curry paste. Then, I also add some minced lemongrass, even though the recipe below doesn’t call for it. Add a tablespoon of fish sauce, a beaten egg and some thinly sliced snake beans or green beans and you’re ready to mix and shape them into little patties. I deep fry them in a wok, and drain and blot them on paper towels after they’re cooked. Serve these to your family warm, and I promise they’ll think you’re a culinary goddess. But don’t forget that dipping sauce. It comes in a glass bottle, often in the international section of grocery stores and at Trader Joe’s.

Fried Fish Cakes with Green Beans (from The Food of Thailand)

Makes 30

Ingredients

1 lb. firm white fish fillets

1 generous TB red curry paste

1 TB fish sauce

1 egg

2 oz. snake beans or green beans, finely sliced

5 makrut (kaffir) lime leaves, finely shredded

peanut oil, for deep-frying

sweet chili sauce to serve

Directions

Remove any skin and bone from the fish and roughly chop the flesh. In a food processor or a blender, mince the fish fillets until smooth. Add the curry paste, fish sauce and egg, then blend briefly until until smooth. Spoon into a bowl and mix in the beans and kaffir lime leaves. Use wet hands to shape the fish paste into thin, fat cakes, about 5 cm (2 inches) across, using about a tablespoon of mixture of each.

Heat 5 cm (2 inches) oil in a wok or deep frying pan over a medium heat. When the oil seems hot, drop a small piece of fish cake into it. If it sizzles immediately, the oil is ready.

Lower five or six of the fish cakes into the oil and deep-fry them until they are golden brown on both sides and very puffy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Keep the cooked fish cakes warm while deep-frying the rest. Serve hot with sweet chili sauce.

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